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Spiritual life, religious studies at BW evolve, broaden partnerships

New campus leaders work to create opportunities for interfaith collaboration, understanding and inclusion.

BW's historic Lindsay-Crossman Chapel

When Baldwin Wallace University celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Lindsay-Crossman Chapel during a recent "Refresh" midday service, the Rev. C.J. Harkness was careful to distinguish between the historic bricks and mortar and the human beings gathered inside.

Harkness, BW's newly appointed director of spiritual life, emphasized, "the spirit and life of the people who have come together in this space over time have helped generations learn to live a meaningful life."

A pathway to 'Seek and Live'

"Seek and Live" is the way Harkness distills the focus he has in his new role at BW following the retirement of beloved Chaplain John Gordon. For more than a decade, Harkness previously served as the University's chief diversity officer. He is also teaching in the religion department as he directs BW's Office of Spiritual Life.

"We want to help students find what brings purpose and meaning here at BW. One way we can do that is to collaborate with campus organizations like the Brain Center for Community Engagement and the Center for Inclusion," Harkness says.

"At the same time, we want to engage in interfaith dialogues that build an inclusive spiritual community," he adds.

The addition of a Muslim prayer room in the Strosacker Hall Union this past fall was part of that effort.

The Rev. C.J. Harkness, director of spiritual life (left), and Dr. Ellen Posman, chair of Faith & Life (right)

Values, purpose and action

At the same time, BW religion professor Dr. Ellen Posman, who took on the mantle of another revered BW figure following the retirement of Dr. Alan Kolp as BW Faith & Life Chair, is seeking to broaden what religious studies looks like at BW.

"I want students to understand that they can have specific values without being part of a specific religious tradition, and even if they are suspicious of organized religion," Posman says. "Based on research, all people need an outlet for spirituality and the ability to explore questions about personal values and purpose."

Posman is laying the groundwork for Faith and Life to partner with congregations around Northeast Ohio to develop both student knowledge and spiritual lives.

"My goal is to build interfaith resources that will educate about religion and also give students an opportunity to take their faith into the community," she says. "So, both C.J. and I are thinking about faith in ways that are involved in justice issues and solving problems around the world."

A place to 'be'

Meanwhile, Harkness is also focused on creating an atmosphere in BW's 150-year-old chapel that offers a respite for all BW students.

"We want the chapel to be a welcoming space on campus for all ... a place to study, to gather with friends, to have lunch or sit in meditation or prayer," Harkness says. "I don't see it as a museum where people will shush you. Just come and be."

2023 Faith & Life Lecture Series

The Rev. Jacqui Lewis, Ph.D.

The first BW Faith & Life Lecture Series under Posman's leadership as chair is coming up on March 15 and 16 with three presentations on the theme "Fierce Love: A Bold Path to Heal the World" featuring the Rev. Jacqui Lewis, Ph.D.

Find information on the series, which is free and open to the public, at this Faith & Life link.

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